Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AHL Awards: Why I Didn't Vote for Justin Schultz

Justin Schultz protects the puck from Cody Eakin (Credit: Steven Christy)
The AHL has announced their All-Rookie team for the year, and it is filled with extremely talented and promising players who will no doubt make their impact felt in the NHL in the coming years. Among them are two South Division foes, left wing Jason Zucker from Houston and defenseman Justin Schultz from Oklahoma City. I voted for Zucker for the All-Rookie team, and it is good to see him get recognition after having a great season. I did not vote for Justin Schultz, despite the statistical season he had.

Oklahoma City and Justin Schultz's story is old hat in the South Division. With so much young talent, the Oilers sent Schultz, Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins down to the AHL to ply their trade during the lockout. It had some pretty fantastic results; there is no question. 

Schultz scored 18 goals and notched 30 assists in just 34 games. He was on pace to break the defenseman single-season scoring record and shatter all the rookie records. He had as many multipoint nights as he did nights with zero or one point. In fact, he was only held pointless five times in 34 games. It was one of the most dominating performances the AHL has probably seen in years.

But I didn't vote for him.

First, the fact remains that without the lockout Justin Schultz would have never seen a second of AHL ice time this year. The minute that the lockout was over Hall, Eberle and Schultz walked out of pregame preparations for a game against Chicago at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL, and didn't look back. There was no hemming or hawing; these guys are NHL players.

If Schultz had played the entire season or two-thirds of it before being called up, I would have definitely put him on my ballot. For example, goaltenders in the AHL have to play a certain number of games to be eligible for the AHL's top GAA lists. Every other skater on the rookie team played at least 53 games (Zucker's GP mark was hampered by injury in Minnesota).

Instead, I voted for Sami Vatanen (8-36-44, plus-1, in 59 GP) and Adam Clendening (7-36-43, plus-16, in 68 GP). I believe their maturation and team impact on their clubs making a playoff push was more deserving.

Vatanen did receive All-Rookie honors; Clendening did not. 

I feel that's too bad as Clendening has played all but three games for the IceHogs and has helped them climb from 14th place in February toward playoff contention (tied for 8th as of today) with fourteen points in seventeen games (and plus-12 rating) since March 1. I think Clendening's body of work in this regard was more deserving than Schultz's.

Additionally, fifteen points in March for Vatanen definitely helped right the ship in Norfolk as they've moved into a tie for eighth place after sinking as low as 14th place in February.

It was still a pleasure to watch Schultz on the ice, and as AHL spectators, media and fans alike all get to say we saw him first.

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